"SCHUBERT EPILOG." BERIO: Rendering for Orchestra (1988-90). REIMANN: Metamorphosen über ein Menuett von Schubert (D 600) for 10 Instruments. HENZE: Der Erlkönig Orchestral Fantasy from Le Fils de l' air (1996). ZENDER: Schubert-Chöre 1-4. SCHWERTSIK: Epilog zu Rosamunde, op. 33 (1978).
Carsten Süss (tenor); Bamberg Symphony Orchestra and Chorus/Jonathan Nott.
Tudor 7371 TT: 77:13

Interesting, and sometimes even quite good. It turns out that composers have written a lot of pieces inspired by Schubert. They come in all forms: from orchestral arrangements (Liszt's orchestrations and piano renderings of the songs, for example) to completely original work (some of Poulenc's song cycles). This disc amasses several such scores. While nobody on this program simply arranges, they stray from the original in different degrees.

I might as well get the stuff that annoyed me out of the way first. Aribert Reimann's Metamorphosen takes a simple Schubert minuet and puts it through a meat grinder for about eight minutes of pure ugly. Hearing this music the aural analogue of scraping your skin with ground glass, not that I've ever tried it. Since I don't know the original, I can't figure out Reimann's manipulations, but I strongly suspect that it would make very little difference to my judgment, given its extremely abrasive surface.

Hans Zender's Schubert Choruses basically take some of Schubert's choral pieces for voices and piano and orchestrates the piano part. However, Zender goes beyond in some of the numbers. The liner notes refer cryptically to "serial techniques," but if so, I've missed them. One occasionally hears a mild bit of dissonance, as if part of the orchestra plays in a key other than the one for the choir -- a bit of schmutz, as if someone has accidentally put their thumb on their cell-phone lens. I don't hate it. I just don't see why Zender thought it necessary.

Far more substantial, Kurt Schwertsik conceived his Epilog as a detachable addendum to a performance of Schubert's Rosamunde music. It also stands as an independent piece. After an extensive introduction undergirded by Schubert's Wanderer rhythm in the lower orchestra (dotted quarter, eighth), we hear a yearning melody. After a while, we hear a theme that becomes the subject of a variation set, where darkness predominates. The variations get faster and faster, the tempo changing mathematically either by halves or by thirds, thus increasing the tension of the piece. One of the variations resembles the charming allegretto theme of the Entr'acte No. 3 from Rosamunde -- in shape, if not in character -- and its characteristic rhythm (quarter, two eighths) influences the following variations. The variations lead directly to a complex and troubled coda which cuts off, according to the composer, "abruptly," without achieving any firm resolution.

A genuine lollipop, Hans Werner Henze's Erlkönig Fantasy comes from the ballet Le Fils de l'air. Like the Schwertsik piece, Henze's score stands on its own. No Schubert theme ever gets directly quoted, although Henze does take on the spirit of the Schubert song -- the headlong motion, a little rumble in the bass, which nevertheless differs from Schubert's rumble. Like all of Henze's music, it's a handsome, assured work. However, Henze can sometimes leave listeners cold. Not here. This piece, I think, will likely appeal to those who attend the Last Night at the Proms.

However, Berio's Rendering intrigues me the most. Schubert left scraps of a Tenth Symphony at his death. I've heard thoroughly non-convincing attempts to provide a "performing version," à la Deryck Cooke's brilliant ministrations to Mahler's Tenth. As I say, these attempts have succeeded as well as the efforts to "complete" the Unfinished Symphony -- ie, not very well. They not only lack the power of what survives, they indeed bear little-to-no resemblance to late Schubert. Berio occupies an interesting middle ground between Reimann, for example, and Cooke. Rendering is, at the end, an original composition with large scraps of Schubert. Berio has ordered the scraps of the symphony and continued them as far as he reasonably could. This, however, left him with gaps from one remnant to another. These he fills with a kind of "aural mist," as if you heard bits of the radio in another room as you showered. I think it a brilliant solution. It turns out that some of these Schubert bits run longer than you might expect, so the overall effect is that of hearing the music taking shape in Schubert's head, with strong patches and "rumty-tumties" at the points where the music hasn't yet emerged. Berio's Schubert actually sounds like late Schubert, down to the orchestration, with bold harmonic sequences and insistent, iconic rhythms. I find Berio's catalogue uneven, but this strikes me as one of his strongest works. I particular like the way it forces one to think of Schubert's compositional routine. Rather than a gush of inspiration, the intros and the conclusions of each movement are normally the most worked-out, with the gaps cropping up in the development.

The performances are okay, with the Berio getting more than that. I'd like to hear the Schwertsik Epilog from somebody else, since I don't find the "bold stroke" of the ending or, indeed, the entire coda leading to it totally convincing. The orchestra seems to lose focus -- true of most of the account. Still, a disc for those adventurers among you.

S.G.S. (April 2013)